Mindfulness is a meditation practice that trains the mind to be open and to help one experience the fullness of all that is occurring at any given moment. Without labeling experiences as good or bad, “Samadhi…(is)…the stillness of the mind in meditation…When it is strong, there is no personality” (Kornfield, Dass, & Miyuki, 1983, p. 35). What does it mean to have no personality? Does this imply that the sense of who we are falls apart and we are merged with others in a symbiotic relationship? Do we dissolve into “nothingness” or do we maintain a separate sense of a self existing separately from others?

koi2You’ve heard of the saying, “empty mind” and that meditation is a way to attain that state. Does that imply that we have no thoughts entering consciousness in that empty mind state of consciousness, or is it a metaphor describing how consciousness differs from normal consciousness when we experience an “empty mind?” In order to reach “the stillness of the mind” do we have to give up all notions of what we identify with when we say “I”? Kornfield et al (1983) stated, “(D)eep transformation (requires) a death of who you think you are” (p. 39).

Welwood (1983) wrote, “(T)here is another dimension of growth beyond merely finding fulfillment in achieving personal goals…we seem to have a need to go beyond ourselves…we cannot begin to transcend self-centeredness if we do not first “have” a strong sense of self” (p. 51). Thus Welwood warns that to transcend one’s separateness, we must first have a strong sense of self—a knowingness of “who I am.” What mindfulness training allows for is the dis-identification with the qualities and aspects of self that we cling to or reject.

As we grow from infancy, our vocabulary grows. Language has allowed our species to advance and dominate the earth. Words help us categorize and label things, feelings, events, people and such, bringing a sense of continuity to our lives. The danger lies, however, in identifying the words we use with the people, places, things, and events that we label. I might remember something as “scary” or “extremely upsetting” that remains with me. When I encounter something similar in the future, I would tend to apply the same label again even though the situation is obviously not the same. This may be useful in some situations, but what happens when we apply negative expectations to situations because they are similar to past experience? This does not allow for a “fully experienced moment” because we have already determined that it is “scary” or “extremely upsetting” and we miss our chance to truly experience what is happening in that moment.

doveToo often we identify the things or situations with labels formed in our past. Although these labels are helpful, they also limit our thinking. In his book No Boundary, Ken Wilber describes how the words we use make up the maps of our lives. The words we use may describe things for us, but they are not the things themselves. They are simply the names and labels that we’ve used to identify things and situations. They form a belief system that we apply unconsciously to our encounters. We must remember, however, that the map is not the territory. The territory is simply labeled by the mapmaker–us. For example, think of any names or labels others have used to describe what they think or feel about you. Are they all accurate? Are some of them demeaning? Does this imply that those descriptions are the truth? Too often, we feel that our beliefs and labels are the truth. Again, the map is not the territory. We need to exercise mindfulness and awareness of the present moment to awaken our consciousness to a higher level.

The hologram can help us to understand the nature of consciousness and thought. All “realities” are there, enfolded and waiting to unfold. When focusing upon one aspect of reality, other realities “fall away”. Yet if we are to reconsider and peer once again into the possibilities awaiting discovery, our previous notions of a situation or reality can be broadened to include all that comes to us. We don’t have to cling to one interpretation or the other, missing out on the unity of each moment.

One of the reasons for this pre-set response to the world has to do with the assumptions that we hold about the world. We expect certain outcomes or we apply particular definitions to events, feelings, or actions. We have good and bad categories that we apply, therefore some things are seen as being favorable to our lives while others are marked as unacceptable. Human experience is a process rather than a stagnant entity. By allowing ourselves to let go of the “self” we are able to come into full contact with all that is. When we do not apply the preset labels to life, we are more able to appreciate the fullness of each moment. We take it in as it is, not as we have believed it to be.


Welwood (1983) writes that learning how to be mindful is to do the following:

“If you ask yourself how you are feeling right now, the first sense you may have is ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure.’…Learn how to follow and stay with what is still unclear in our felt experience…let it unfold and reveal itself to us. A felt sense is a wider way our body holds or ‘knows’ many aspects of a situation all at once—subverbally, holistically, intuitively. It is concretely felt—in the body—as a sense—something not yet cognitively clear or distinct. It is not yet clear because it contains many aspects of the situation –it needs to be ‘unpacked’ or ‘unfolded.’ Contacting and unfolding the wider felt sense of a situation we are in often leads to important therapeutic changes (p. 44).

Quantum physicists tell us what we see as our “real” world is but the unfolded reality that we have formed. Our reality is based upon the ideas we hold of what and how the world works. The potential for other “realities” exists within the enfolded order. There are always many possible interpretations or viewpoints in any given situation. The enfolded reality contains all those possibilities. The unfolded reality is the one we settle upon as being OUR reality. Mindfulness meditation attempts to helps us achieve a greater expanse of conscious awareness by allowing the enfolded realities to reveal themselves in a process of unfolding. When we don’t apply our own “storylines” or expectations to situations, we allow for the situation to become.

“When you meditate…you take all the ego energy and are drawn to some inner place which then stimulates the unconscious. States beyond the ego suddenly arise. The mental training (of meditation) emphasizes…the factor of mindfulness that arises in relation to mental feelings, experiences, without getting caught (up) by them. As that mindfulness grows, it also has the function of deepening samadhi which is not just the samadhi of withdrawal but samadhi of being very present in daily life moment to moment. If mindfulness or awareness is cultivated first, then the mind becomes prepared in a natural way for more difficult exposure to the unconscious (Kornfield et al, 1983, pp. 40-41).



Welwood (1983) writes about the practice of mindfulness:

The practice of mindfulness mediation…involves sitting straight, following the breath, and letting thoughts come and go, without trying to control them or direct them in more pleasant directions. As soon as we give up control and let ourselves be in this way, the confusion of churning thoughts and feelings may become more noticeable. When we observe our thoughts we are able to get at what is driving us. We get an intimate sense of the areas of our life where we are afraid, fixated, or grasping too tightly. Meditation provides an opportunity to let this confusion arise and be there, rather than, as therapy does, trying to sort out the confusion. Gently bringing our attention back to the breath helps keep us from getting lost in the chaos of thoughts and feelings. We can let the confusion arise without identifying with it. We learn how to ‘keep our seat,’ how not to get thrown or carried away by the wild horse of the mind, but rather to stay alert and keep riding no matter where the mind may go. In so doing, the mind begins to slow down (the horse gets tired!), and we get glimpses of another way of being. Instead of being driven and carried away by our thoughts, we can begin to tap into a deeper, wider awareness. It allows us to see how we are driven by fear, from the uncertainty about who we are amidst the constantly changing flux of life. Meditation provides an opportunity to directly experience how we keep trying to manufacture and hold onto a fixed identity (pp. 46-47).

The meditation process “…focuses not on personal issues, but on the nature and process of mind as a whole…it provides a space where we can let ourselves be and thus discover our basic nature (beyond all our stories and problems)” (Welwood, 1983, p. 48). There is an exercise included on this website called, The Candle Exercise. When you do this exercise, you will note many thoughts arising in your mind as you meditate on the candle flame. The mind is like a spoiled child and wants all your attention. When thoughts arise during the candle exercise, simply note them and let them pass. Don’t cling to them or fixate on it, trying to understand what they mean. Just let them be.



Be Kind to Yourself

Maitri is a kind of friendliness with ourselves that is not conditional in any way…instead of trying to get ourselves to live up to how we think we should be, maitri involves accepting ourselves unconditionally and allowing ourselves to be human (Welwood, 1983). Welwood speaks of how we often berate ourselves for not living up to our expectations or those of others. We want more, we expect more of ourselves and don’t know how to just let ourselves “be.” Perhaps this comes from the constant push we are given throughout life to always better ourselves, to be all we can be, to discover “who we are.” It sets us up for frustration and disappointment. Is it possible to have maitri for ourselves?

Fighting with our feelings only gives them a greater charge of energy, and thus more power over us. “Making space for whatever feelings we have to be there…allows us to become larger than them, not by ‘rising above them’ but by stretching to include them. When we can include pain in our lives then it no longer has such a hold over us” (Welwood, 1983, p. 50). Even when we are confronted with aspects of our personal self that we try to hide, is it possible for us to incorporate these characteristics into our sense of wholeness? Whenever we reject any part of ourselves, we have to numb ourselves in order to ignore its presence. “The practice of being with parts of ourselves that we would rather not look at builds confidence as we realize that nothing inside is as bad as our avoidance or rejection of it” (Welwood, 1983, p. 51).

Higher consciousness is part of a spiritual movement. Psychology has addressed two major aspects of being human by gathering knowledge about the physical (body) and the intellect (mind). But what has been missing to date has been the third unifying factor that makes each person unique—the spirit (soul). When we tend to the nature of consciousness we learn to listen to the soul. We hear ourselves from the inside and find our own truths instead of seeking our truth outside of ourselves and from the external world. “…(S)piritual movements (don’t) care that deeply about psychological health. They see it as a passing show. Neurotic symptoms were not necessarily symptoms of disease but rather manifestations of a functional person who now questions seriously the nature of life” (Kornfield et al, 1983, p. 37-39).

In summary, mindfulness can help us achieve a more accepting attitude towards ourselves, others, and life. When we are able to ascertain how consciousness works, we are able to expand our awareness to appreciate and savor each moment that we are given.

References Kornfield, J. Dass, R. & Miyuki, M. (1983). Psychological adjustment is not liberation: A symposium. In Awakening the Heart: East/West approaches to psychotherapy and the healing relationship. pp. 33-42. Ed. John Welwood. Boston: Shambhala.

Welwood, J. (1983). On psychotherapy and meditation. In Awakening the Heart: East/West approaches to psychotherapy and the healing relationship. pp. 43-54. Ed. John Welwood. Boston: Shambhala.